Monday, April 18, 2022


 Every Wednesday, during our devo time at work (9am, on Zoom, with 35 - 50 people in attendance, all across Canada, someone on staff is interviewed. The 4 questions are: 

1.Tell us about your early years...

2. What is your faith journey?

3. How did you come to work at Focus?

4. How can we pray for you?

Last Wednesday it was my turn. 

The Reader’s Digest version of my story is:

I was born and raised in a Christian home, along with my younger brother and sister. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 5 and He’s been there ever since. Got baptized at 17 and went to Bible School after I graduated from High School. Got married. Had 3 kids. Got divorced. I was unemployed in 2012, so I applied for a job at Focus. Got hired. Been here ever since. Please pray for my kids.

The Extended Play, Editor’s Cut Version where I totally overshare the details is somewhat longer:

My beginnings. I guess they started in 1905, which was when my Omi was born in Ukraine, the third of six girls, including an older and a younger set of twin sisters. Two of her older sisters died a few months before she was born, so those two sister’s names were recycled and used again. Despite that hard year, life was good in the Niebuhr home. If this were a Disney movie, you’d see a lovely, love-filled family living in a beautiful home with wood floors, hired help, a large successful farm and blue birds sewing ball gowns for a gaggle of giggling girlies.

Tragedy hit in 1914, when their 40 year old dad died, leaving Margareta, Omi's mom alone with her 4 girls. She sold (?) the farm and got married to Widow Hildebrandt, who lived in another village. He had an older home, with a dirt floor, and 10 children. (Coincidentally, apropos of nothing, there were 4 Hildebrand daughters with the exact same names as the 4 Niebuhr daughters; Elisabeth, Helen, Margaret and Anna.) (Those names are still in circulation today; my Omi (Elizabeth), named her daughter Margaret, who named her daughter Elizabeth, who had twins and named her daughter Anna.) In case you were wondering. 

Anyways, fast forward a decade, after years of maturing and working, Elizabeth, my Omi, got married, as you do, and had three kids with her husband, Johann. First, a son, John, then seven years later, a set of twins: Peter and Margaret. Peter was my dad.

Even though my family lived in Ukraine for generations, we were not Ukranian. I hail from a Mennonite family that moved from the Netherlands at the invitation of Catherine the Great. She welcomed the hard-working, highly principled, family-oriented faith-based people group to settle in her country and work the land.

One night, when everyone was sleeping, there was that knock on the door. Johann Klassen my grandfather was beaten, then dragged from his home. Two weeks later he was executed, leaving my Omi alone with an eight year old and twin one year olds. She was put to work on a communal farm, milking cows 4 times a day, and John was pulled from school to care for his younger siblings.

Eventually, she, and her sister, and two neighbour women, all in their early 30’s knew they’d have to leave their homes in Ukraine and try to start life over elsewhere. So they, along with their combined 13 young children, packed up their belongings onto two carts pulled by horses and oxen and on foot, followed the retreating German army, westward, away from the advancing Russian army.

It was a long walk, with a few train rides, harrowing stories and a bunch of miracles along the way, but eventually the women and children arrived, first in Germany, then in Canada in 1948. My dad was 12, didn’t know the language and had had no education. He was enrolled in elementary school in Boissevane, but higher learning was not for him. So at 15, armed with a third grade report card, he quit, and worked as a hired hand on the Hoeppner’s farm in Winkler. After 3 years, at 18, he knew his future was not farming, so he asked for his wages, gave them to his mom, and she bought him a one way  train ticket to Vancouver to stay with his older brother.

On his first Sunday in Vancouver, he attended the 43 Ave Mennonite Church and sitting in the back row with his black leather jacket and stride pants (his role model and wardrobe stylist was actor James Dean) he noticed my very royal 13 year old mom, still riding through life on the confidence of being The Vancouver May Queen, and said to his buddy, “I’m going to marry that girl someday.”

And it came to pass that he did. She was 19, he was 23 and they were crazy about each other. Two years later I was born. It is not a surprise to anyone that I am a first born daughter; I proudly claim 100% of all first born traits. I have a younger brother and sister and we all got J names: Jane, Jim and Julie.

We lived a charmed life, my dad, a self-employed countertop guy and sometime house-builder, provided us with a very comfortable home on a 25 acre hobby farm. We had dirt bikes and go carts and barns to play in; we went camping every summer, to Palm Springs every spring, to church (Killarney Park MB) every Sunday (twice) and had huge parties with dozens and dozens of friends all through my growing up years.

When I was 15, the cute guy at school, the Student Council President, asked me to be his date for the School Christmas Dance. My mom and dad, cutting edge ‘cool’ Mennonites (my mom wore mini skirts with white plastic go go boots and my dad had a perm. And they were still crazy about each other) they were encouraging me to go. I was scared. Two reasons: Based on the stories of my life, I was the age at which I was to choose my life mate. And as cute and interesting and fun as Mark was, was he the one? And second – he wasn’t a Christian, so he couldn’t be the one. So why would I go on a date with someone I wasn’t ready to marry? WHICH DROVE MY PARENTS NUTS. “Just because you go to a dance with him doesn’t mean you’re going to marry him. (Spoiler alert. They were wrong. I did marry him.)

Anyway, I told Mark I’d let him know about being his date the following day, and that night I went to Youth Group Bible Study. We sat around on the floor and long-haired leaders with guitars and mood rings would lead us in singing 70’s choruses. THIS NIGHT. AND THIS NIGHT ONLY, as I’ve never sung this song before or since, we were introduced to a new song, and sheets were handed out. The Song was Lord of the Dance. And my prayer’s of ‘should I or shouldn’t I go the dance’ was answered, it seemed, in a profoundly personal way:

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he

So I said yes to the dance, and seven years later, I said yes again to marriage.

(He had become a Christian the year I went away to Bible School.) We got married after we’d both graduated from BCIT with degrees in Marketing Management.

We based our homelife, on the idyllic childhood I had growing up. He worked for his family business, and after a stint in real estate, then managing a cabinet manufacturing office, I opened a retail store with my mom in a Victorian-style home my dad built for us. It was called Billie’s Country and THESE WERE (supposed to be) MY GOLDEN YEARS. We had three brown-eyed, left-handed, wildly-cute and wickedly-smart boys. Were apart of a Mennonite church plant in Fraser Heights. Took the kids to California, prayed with them every night and got them to mid-week kids clubs. And I felt, like so many young moms do, that I wasn’t good enough. House wasn’t clean enough, meals weren’t creative enough, when I was at work, I felt guilty for not being at home, and when I was home, I longed to be at Billies. When the kids were super little, I took them to the store with me, and as they got older, I’d drop them off at school, and pick them up when their day was done. I was trying to a super woman and ended up just being exhausted.

And then in 1998, he told me he didn’t love me anymore; I wasn’t fun or something. So he left that Christmas. My boys were 12, 8 and 4 and this was the start of the season of D words for me. Divorce was the first one. It was finalized a few months before he had his fourth son with his new wife. I felt ‘less-than’.

Coincidently, our church closed down within a few months of my marriage ending. And my dad had a life-changing heart attack a few weeks after that.

Oh, and Billie’s Country? My lovely store? We decided to close it. I needed to have a job FOR MONEY not just fun. I needed a job to support myself - a big girl career. 

If you’re keeping track, I lost my husband, my church, my job my identity, and the strong dad I’d been leaning on heavily.

Know what’s left? God. Just God. I was sitting on the porch of the house I’d just bought, and with it’s dark stucco walls, facing north, I felt like I was in a cave. I was reading only the Psalms in those days because whiny David was MY MAN. He was speaking my words, we were kindred spirits. His prayers became my prayers and His God became MY God. My faith became real. Up til now I was a Mennonite Christian, just like I was a first born blonde. It was just part of my DNA. But at THIS POINT in my life? I became a bible reading GOD FOLLOWER. He may have been the God of the Dance, but now I needed the God of the Divorce to lead and guide me.

I sold that house and bought again in Murrayville and the boys and I started attending Murrayville Church, kids were still going to Fundy and Poppy schools, and I reinvented myself. Made all new friends, got a job with Arrow Leadership, took my kids on a Mexico Missions Trip as well as Spring vacations in California. Clint and Max both got baptized. And then November 2007 happened.


My dad’s brain broke and my mom’s bowel burst and Max started using drugs. The other two D words hit simultaneously. Dementia and Drugs. I can’t even. Divorce is terrible. Horrible. Lonely. Scary. But it’s got nothing on having a child addicted to opiates. The fear for your child’s life settles on top OF EVERYTHING. So while he was pushing me away, my parents were holding tight. Watching your strong, loving, larger-than-life dad babble like a baby, while your mom is struggling and angry about her surgery, had me on my knees again. My God of the Dance and Divorce also became my God of Terrible, No Good, Very Bad, Very Sad, Things. My prayer life became one long PLEEEEEEEEASE help me. Please please please please. I recognized my complete inability to handle All The Things. I needed Him.


In 2011, Max asked for help, praise God. His drug and alcohol use had turned into a full-blown, out-of-control addiction. We got him into a men’s residential rehab facility that saved his life. Eleven years later he is still clean.

In 2012 (don’t worry, I won’t do a year-by-year summary), I lost my job, my dad had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed, unable to walk or feed himself, so he’d need to go into full time care. He cried/wailed EVERY DAY, ALL DAY LONG, for MONTHS. His dementia was off the charts and he just didn’t understand. On Drew’s graduation night, our home was robbed. They came back the next day, with the spare set of keys they’d taken, and stole my truck from the driveway, doused it in gasoline and lit it on fire. Rodents had taken the cedar shakes off my roof, leaving an opening the size of a door  – which was an invitation for every rat and opossum in the neighbourhood to come on in and make themselves comfortable. The septic at the lake backed up and I had shit floating in the yard ON THE SAME DAY that I was hosting a wedding up there. Drew moved out, at 17, to live with his dad – the break-in left him feeling unsafe. I didn’t see him again for months. Oh, and the church voted to close down. YES, this is the second church that I was all in to, that shut it’s doors when I needed a church NOT TO SHUT IT'S DOORS. And through it all I NEEDED A JOB. I was applying everywhere; reminding God that my Unemployment benefits were running out. I needed a job by Nov 28. I had applied and interviewed for about a dozen good jobs that fall, and on Nov 28, I received a call from Natasha at Focus, offering me the position I’d applied for. THAT GOD. HIS PERFECT TIMING ALWAYS SEEMS LIKE THE LAST MINUTE TO ME.  I accepted, obviously. And that afternoon, I got two other job offers. Which, was God just showing off.

I started a few days later, then got lost on my way back from Cultus to Langley. And couldn’t sleep. And started crying. Then my front tooth fell out. I went to my doctor, asked him what was wrong with me, and he told me my body was catching up to the traumas of my year. He gave me some drugs, and I went to see Derek to quit. Told him I wasn’t the person he’d hired, I was a mess. He told me he’d pray about it, and we’d talk after the weekend.

When I saw him on Monday, he said to me, “ You’ve just lost your way. But I believe you are exactly the perfect person for this position. Your references were very convincing about your gifts and abilities and they know that you can do this. You absolutely can. So do what your doctor says, and tell me how I can support you.” We came up with a plan based on trust and confidence; I’d work as many hours per day as I could handle with Laura, his assistant, helping for as long as I’d need her. Within two months I was back to my old self, able to work 8 hours a day and not needing Laura’s help. THAT EXPERIENCE more than anything impacted my leadership style and my commitment to this organization.

Fast forward to Summer of 2019. (And the start of the C words…) Nothing gets you prepared to meet your maker like a doctor saying, “I have bad news, you have breast cancer. Sorry.” So I prayed. And cried. And prayed some more. “Ok God. My life is yours, anyways. Is this how you want my story to end? With cancer? Am I going to die of this? Could I NOT? But if my death would be the thing that you could use to bring my boys back into a relationship with you – OK THEN. That’s a fine idea. Their salvation is more important to me than living out my last wrinkly years on earth. But. Uh, could my death not be painful? Or icky?”

I had surgery. And daily radiation treatments. And one month later Covid hit. (The second C word…)

Covid on the heels of cancer is a strange thing. I got the shots, wore the masks, looked after my mom, fed the homeless, started painting rocks, made some new friends, opened my life up to whatever God was asking me to do. Which thankfully, so far at least, doesn’t involve travelling to India.

And just as it appears the pandemic is ending, we have another C word: CONFLICT, otherwise known as WAR as Russian invades Ukraine again – just like it did in the ‘40’s.

On Feb 24, the day it all started, I thought of all the family stories I’d heard growing up. They were like Bible stories to me. The Mennonites and Jews were the same in my young mind. Fleeing from bad guys and getting married young. But now, as an adult, my heart ached for another generation of Ukrainian woman who were leaving their homes, and taking their children to someplace safer. I may have been the first in my extended family to get a divorce but I’m not the first woman to do life without a husband. And I may have been the first in my extended family to get cancer, but I’m not the first to experience pain and suffering. The God of my Ancestors, is also The God of Jane. He is good. Always.


My Bible verse during the first trimester of my life was given to me by my mom: Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

During the second trimester, given to me by a pastor was Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

And now, in my third trimester,


And Isaiah 43:1, given to me by my team at work:

Don’t be afraid, I’ve called you by name.

You are mine, Jane.

When you go through deep waters and great trouble,


When you go through rivers of difficulty


You are precious to me,



Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19 - from a sermon I heard in 2019:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,

And even though my husband divorced me

And my son got addicted to drugs,

And even though I got a cancer (but not Covid, so far…)

And even though there is a war going on in Ukraine,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    and bring me safely over the mountains.



Three things I'm thankful for:

1. Easter 

2. Weekends

3. The colour orange

4. Sneezes

5. Long, drawn out, conversation-filled meals

6. Yams

7. People who pray

8. Friends who help friends

9. Elevators

10. Forgiveness and grace

11. Memories

12. Anticipation

13. Enthusiastic responses

14. Glow in the dark Paint

15. Leaders who lead well

16. Pansies

17. A job

18. Lavender filled magic bags

19. Laughter

20. Wonder

21. That Weeping Willow tree

22. Stories

23. Ice water

24. Strong men who lend their muscles when needed

25. Expressed appreciation


Wash your hands, say your prayers, be kind always,



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